Thursday, June 07, 2012

A Night Awash With Poetry in Toronto


Whimsical rain and a few grey clouds, punctured in the distance by the tip of the CN Tower, ushered in the evening of the 2012 Griffin Poetry Prize Shortlist Readings and the presentation of The Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry’s 2012 Lifetime Recognition Award at the Koerner Center in downtown Toronto. 

This year’s Readings attracted as was the case in the past, a keen audience.

Yet in spite of the humming crowds milling about the book stands and the hallways, a comfortable serenity hovered over the premises on this night – an auspicious preamble for poetry and for what would be, as I was about to find out, a genuine poetic coup de théâtre

Mr. Griffin’s introduction preceded the first reading by an international finalist. 

David Harsent, author of Night read poetry of a translucent and harmonious resonance:

“It sings they say, and so it does: something like the note
that fractures glass or gets so far below
the range of human hearing that it shakes your heart;

and the glass it breaks is blue”

(from Blue)

Yusef Komunyakaa, read next from The Chameleon Couch. Here is a fragment from the poem When All Eyes Are on Me, a string of surprising metaphors:

"I walk big-shouldered, my head raised
Proudly. I smell the blood of a king.
The citizens can see only a minotaur in a maze.
I know more than a lion should know."

Sean O’Brien began his reading from the book November with the poem Europeans, and an injunction:

“Now we are in Europe let us take
To selling mushrooms by the roadside,
Broad-brimmed platefuls and uniform buttons
Plucked before dawn in the forest of birch”

The last international finalist to take the stage was Joanna Trzeciak, the translator of Sobbing Superpower: Selected Poems of Tadeusz Różewicz.  Różewicz’s poetry quaintly resembles Chagall’s paintings:
"fallen angels
look like
moons wedged beneath
the green fingernails of the dead"

(from Homework Assignment on the Subject of Angels)

With this -  we reached the intermission. 

After the break, the announcement that The Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry’s Lifetime Recognition Award in 2012 was awarded to a poet of significant literary stature, whose name, revealed to an enthusiastic audience, was none other than Seamus Heaney.

Nothing had prepared me for the fact that I would see Seamus Heaney, an author whose poetry has played a specific (albeit secret, for the purposes of this blog) role in my personal life. 

Readings from the books of Canadian finalists came next.

Ken Babstock read from Methodist Hatchet, the superb poem Avalon, Helicopter; a glimpse into this poem below:

“If Berkley, as we hope misfigured the contents, and ideas
Are like other things, here, on a porcelain toadstool
Sprouted from powerlines, is the sum of all past assertions
On essence.”

Phil Hall read from his book Killdeer, where he notes the following:

“Like Yannis Ritsos I have put poems in jars & buried them on
Islands in Greece”

“Oddly – confession has figured in my writing – I have populated
 my poems with real people who would resent my use of them if
they knew”

Jan Zwicky ended the Readings with poems from the book Forge. Here is a passage:

“ There is a sound
That is a whole of many parts,
a sorrowless transparency, like luck,
that opens in a centre of a thing.”

(from Gigue)

A night replete of poetry and inspired introductions by the three judges - Heather McHugh, David O’Meara and Fiona Sampson - had come to an end.

 I strolled back to the subway entrance at Bloor & St. George, glad for this night of words.

I was also glad for the chance to see Seamus Heaney, an event that had me, a Canadian, swathed in the luck of the Irish - even if only for a couple of seconds, even if for the duration of a verse.

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